US, May 7, 2007 - The basic feat of "knowing your audience" never gets as much credit as it should. Hitting the expectations of your fan-base can be excruciatingly tricky, as the hardcore devotees are fickle and will call out any missed detail, assigning any perceived fault an almost unfair level of gravity. Airborne should escape such nay-saying with their mobile shooter based on the Robotech: The New Generation. It knows the source material, respects characters, and provides exactly the kind of experience a fan would want for a mobile Robotech game -- namely, transforming Veritech fighters shooting up hordes of invading Invid.
You begin the game as Scott Bernard, a pilot that loses his fiancee, Marlene Rush, in a tragic battle against the Invid. The battle results in horrific losses for humanity, too. Scott and his Veritech survive, and with the assistance of other surviving pilots -- such as Rand -- mount an assault on the Invid Reflex Point. There's certainly more to the story than that, which unspools through a series of cut-scenes that feature nicely recreated anime portraits of the characters.
However, it must be noted that the game is a by-the-numbers top-down shooter. There are no surprises in Robotech; this is a simple "blast everything" shooter accompanied by lots of power-up collecting. Your fighter utilizes auto-fire, so you're always spraying lasers across the vertically-oriented landscape. Formations of Invid craft bum-rush you repeatedly, so you must watch for patterns and predictable flight paths if you want to clean up the airspace. Invid fighters will creep along the sides of the screen, dart up from the bottom, and rely on asteroids or ground cannons for cover. At the end of scenarios, you face off against a boss ship of varying sizes.
The more Invid you blast, the more power-ups fly into view. The most common power-ups are transformation boosts that fill a gauge close to the bottom of the screen. When the gauge has some juice in it, you press 5 or OK to transform between space fighter and mech forms. In mech form, your rate of fire increases, but the transformation is only temporary -- you must keep picking up green vials to power your transformations. You can also collect weapon boosters that multiply your firepower, shields, satellites that flank your ship, bomb/missile attacks, and extra lives. At the end of each scenario, though, you lose all of your acquired power-ups and must start from scratch. It's somewhat frustrating, but if you kept all of your gear, the game would be a cakewalk.
Developer Big Blue Bubble does some pretty smart stuff with Robotech, such as making sure the stages are long enough to provide some solid shooting action, but short enough for a mobile fix. The timing of the Invid craft is also nicely synced to your rate of fire. Nothing feels particularly mismatched -- as long as your ship is in the right place at the right time, you can blast an entire Invid formation and scoop up a fat combo bonus. There is also incentive to replay stages, as you unlock extra characters and Veritech while playing through the main story with Scott.
I tested the game on a Sony Ericsson w810i. The game screen is a little cluttered with gauges -- you can ill-afford to take your eyes of the main action for very long. The sprites are decently detailed -- fans will recognize the Veritech and the Invid ships, such as Scouts and Troopers -- but still a bit small. The game is accompanied by some good music.
Robotech: The New Generation should be a treat for fans of the ever-popular anime epics as the game does a good job recreating that universe. But should non-fans download this blaster? Even though it's a solid play, I found the game a little too eager to adhere to accepted genre mechanics -- I've definitely played this game before, many times. If you're just a genre fan, I'd recommend checking out Alpha Wing 2 first.